On the run: no thoroughbred performance at the Pontefract parkrun

Runners follow the inside rail of the racecourse, at last Saturday's Pontefract parkrun in West York

Runners follow the inside rail of the racecourse, at last Saturday's Pontefract parkrun in West Yorkshire. Picture: CARL MARSTON - Credit: Archant

Athletics correspondent Carl Marston is travelling around the region (and beyond) running in different parkruns. This week he heads north to the Pontefract parkrun

The Grandstand at Pontefract racecourse, an impressive backdrop for the Pontefract parkrun. Picture:

The Grandstand at Pontefract racecourse, an impressive backdrop for the Pontefract parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTO - Credit: Archant

The venues for parkruns are numerous and varied, with the 570-plus events in the UK spread around country parks, school-fields, seafront promenades, recreation grounds and woodland.

Many others are staged on National Trust sites, in prisons, on water meadows, around reservoirs, in young offenders’ institutes, on islands and in urban parks.

With the exception of prisons and the young offender institutes, I have visited most of these types of venues, up and down the country, although last weekend was a first for me – a racecourse.

I reckon there are at least eight racecourses which host parkruns across England and Wales, though there are probably a few more.

Runners approach the finish of last Saturday's Pontefract parkrun, with a circuit of the boating lak

Runners approach the finish of last Saturday's Pontefract parkrun, with a circuit of the boating lake. Picture: CARL MARSTON - Credit: Archant


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Northampton, Market Rasen, Hereford, York, Haverfordwest, Worcester Pitchcroft and Catterick all stage the weekly free 5Ks on a Saturday morning.

However, I nipped up to Pontefract last Saturday, to take part in the Pontefract parkrun on Pontefract racecourse in West Yorkshire.

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A turn on the Pontefract parkrun route, in front of the boating lake. Picture: CARL MARSTON

A turn on the Pontefract parkrun route, in front of the boating lake. Picture: CARL MARSTON - Credit: Archant

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‘A bit far to be travelling for a 5K, just to keep this parkrun tour ticking over, Carl,’ I hear you cry – well, it is a 160-mile trek and a three-hour drive from my Suffolk home, but I did have an excuse.

Jumping back on the Colchester United bandwagon, and in search of FA Cup glory, I was on my way up to Accrington Stanley to report on a first round tie for this newspaper, so an early start and a stop-off at Pontefract racecourse seemed the ‘sensible’ thing to do.

The run-down

Horse-racing in Pontefract was recorded as early as 1648, just before Oliver Cromwell took over the local castle, with races continuing to take place on meadows near the town.

Nowadays, Pontefract racecourse is one of the longest continuous flat racing circuits in Europe, boasting a tough last three furlongs uphill to the finish post. It was also the first horse racing venue in the country to have a dope testing facility.

This is all very well, and I would probably have failed such a test before last Saturday’s Pontefract parkrun, due to the intake of pain-killing drugs to combat my now-all-too-common sore hip/calf.

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As for the uphill finish, the parkrun fortunately avoids that threat by rounding off with a circuit of the boating lake, in the middle of the circuit. In fact, the parkrun starts with a lap around the boating lake, before completing a full circuit of the racecourse on a trail around the inside rail of the two-mile loop.

Alas, there was no thoroughbred performance from me last Saturday morning – ‘lame donkey’ would be nearer the truth.

Last Saturday’s results

Bradley Walker, of nearby club Ackworth Road Runners, led home a field of 340 runners, joggers and walkers in a time of 18mins 04secs. Philip Wainwright (an appropriate surname for these parts, being close to the Pennines) was second in 18:20.

Faye Banks, from Pontefract AC, was the first female in 19:09.

Records

The inaugural Pontefract parkrun attracted a select field of just 42 runners, and six volunteers, on May 7, 2011.

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In fact, the event did not command a 100-plus field until event No. 45, the following March, but now hundreds turn up every week, including a record 601 for New Years Day, 2018.

parkrun is certainly booming in this part of the world, and at present Jack Hallas (Wakefield & District Harriers) holds the course best of 15:06, from May, 2015. Stevie Stockton posted the female landmark of 17:10 in April, 2017.

Carl’s experience

Racecourses are excellent venues for parkrun – wide open spaces, a ready-made circuit, good car parking and an ability to cope with large numbers of runners, joggers and walkers.

Just earlier this month, a new parkrun was established on the Market Rasen racecourse in Lincolnshire where, just like at Pontefract, the route follows the inside rail of the circuit.

By contrast, the Pontefract event has been around for more than seven years, and continues to go from strength to strength, which is more than can be said for my running!

And combined with Colchester United’s FA Cup exit at Accrington Stanley, later that afternoon, I can declare that I have had better days!

Having hit rock-bottom, I feel this is the perfect time to have a break from parkrun (and this column), to let the injuries heal.

Is that a cheer I hear?

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